Countryside campaigners want Secretary of State to call in Chiswell Green hotel plan

COUNTRYSIDE campaigners are urging the Secretary of State to “call in” a major hotel scheme planned for a Green Belt site.

Last month St Albans councillors gave the go ahead to a scheme from 51 Pegasus to develop Copsewood in Chiswell Green as a 150-bed Hilton Hotel and conference centre.

It was the third time Pegasus 51 had applied for planning permission for the scheme and councillors overturned their officers’ recommendation and gave it planning permission.

Now the Herts branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has asked the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, to call in what they describe as the “disastrous decision” to give the scheme the go ahead.

They describe Copsewood, located between the Watford Road/North Orbital Road junction and Lye Lane, as one of the last few undeveloped sites separating Chiswell Green from Bricket Wood.

And they argue that the decision flouts not only St Albans’ own District Local Plan but also the new National Planning Policy Framework’s Green Belt protection policies.

The council has to notify the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, about its decision because it conflicts with the Development Plan and it can be called in for government determination.

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That is what CPRE Hertfordshire is asking to happen with a public inquiry held first if necessary.

They have also asked St Albans MP, Anne Main, to press the Secretary of State to call in the scheme for his own decision.

CPRE Hertfordshire director, Kevin FitzGerald, said: “Let us hope that the Secretary of State recognises the crucial importance of this site not just to St Albans and Hertfordshire, but to the credibility of the Government’s confirmed commitment to protection of Green Belts’.

He added: “We find it hard to believe that the council could allow itself to make such a disastrous decision in the context of the future planning of this highly vulnerable part of the Green Belt between St Albans and Watford, and a decision that flies in the face of national policy as well as it’s own officers’ sound advice.”

The latest application for the hotel at Copsewood had put greater emphasis on landscaping and the woodland setting of the hotel and conference centre as well as promising to plant over 100 new trees.

Councillor Geoffrey Turner, chairman of the planning referrals committee which gave it permission, said that councillors felt that there were special circumstances to justify allowing it to be built in the Green Belt.

The committee, which also gave planning permission to a scheme from Premier Inns to build a hotel in St Peter’s Street at the same meeting, had felt that St Albans would benefit from the combination of a high quality four-star hotel, conference and function centre.

Prior to the meeting, former Harpenden Mayor and St Albans councillor Michael Weaver had made a plea for both schemes to get the go ahead because of the expressed need for increased hotel and large conference facilities to draw people into the city.